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Review: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

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By now, if you are unfamiliar with the name Charlie Kaufman (in other words, if you have spent the last three years in outer space), that is undoubtedly a damn shame.

Charlie Kaufman is unquestionably one of the most extraordinary and one of the (if not the) most inventive screenwriters in the game today. His previous projects, including Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, have broken cinematic formulas and expectations alike, and in doing so, both have become modern-day unparalleled masterworks. Fortunately, with his newest effort, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Kaufman does not fall far from the level of innovation he emanated with his first two features.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a strikingly original story that blends both romance and memory loss like no other. It is yet another eccentric and aesthetic tale from one of Hollywood’s most gifted writers that all will surely find sharp, fresh, and cognitive.

Not only has Kaufman pieced together a pioneering screenplay on an often-adapted subject matter, but he has also concocted an aptly named title that has the power to place viewers in a state of surrealism and wonderment right from the get-go.

The title of the picture is taken from a poem entitled “Eloisa to Abelard” by Alexander Pope. This historic elegy, which Kaufman also used in Being John Malkovich, directly refers to the human brain’s power of recollection. Reminiscent of both Memento and 50 First Dates, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind deals with the loss of memory; however, Kaufman’s script gives the frequently used topic an appetizing twist.

On a train to Montauk, Joel Barrish (Jim Carrey) happens to meet Clementine Kruczynski (Kate Winslet), a candid yet electric woman, who more-or-less seems like she could complete Joel in every way. The two form a relationship, and establish many happy memories together. Even so, in due time, their connection comes to a halt—Clementine becomes bored with Joel, and Joel believes Clementine is too dependent.

Immediately after the breakup, Clementine chooses to have Joel erased from her memory. She travels to Lacuna Inc. – a company that specializes in the futuristic service of memory erasure – to seek the help of Dr. Howard Mierzwiak (Tom Wilkinson).

Once Joel discovers that Clementine erased him from her head entirely, he reports directly to Lacuna for the very same service. However, once the Lacuna employees, Patrick (Elijah Wood), Stan (Mark Ruffalo) and Mary (Kirsten Dunst), start wiping out Clementine from Joel’s mind, their service becomes a disservice; Joel becomes contrite and changes his mind about the procedure. Even though Joel is unconscious during the entire attempted erasure, he consciously tries to retain the memories of his love for Clementine within the walls of his own head, and attempts to hang on to at least a fragment of what they once had.

There is no question about it, this Jim Carrey’s finest work. He brings a clear spirited depth to the part of Joel—making Joel Jim’s most stark yet most respectable character role to date. Even though Eternal Sunshine may not be one of Jim biggest money making endeavors (compared to his comedies), it certainly puts him on the path of being perceived as an actor who is capable of seriousness. At far as earning an Oscar nod for ‘04, because of the film’s early release date and the fierce competition up for the Best Actor nominations, Jim was gypped.

In addition to Carrey’s career performance, the remainder of the ensemble cast fares equally as well. Kate Winslet serves up some of her best non English-accented acting as the orange-haired and sporadically veclempt Clementine. (Sorry for the Yiddish slang.) Her work here is arguably better than anything else she has done—with the possible exception of her other near-astounding effort in Finding Neverland. Kirsten Dunst and Mark Ruffalo are as faultless as always, and both Tom Wilkinson and Elijah Wood are as top-notch as expected in their respective supporting roles.

With his superb use of light (or more appropriately darkness) and his watertight scene transitions, director Michel Gondry has crafted an utter joy of a film that cleverly starts out near the end and then wraps back upon itself by the conclusion. Overall, the quirky yet visual genius of Gondry combined with the warped yet brilliant mind of Charlie Kaufman has undoubtedly resulted in a beautiful and poignant romance. The manner in which Eternal Sunshine blends its romance and comedy gives the film a strong sense of undeniable individuality and makes for an overtly pleasing picture. Eternal Sunshine has the aptitude to tickle your thinking cap, sooth your sight, and hypnotize your heart. Beyond any shadow of a doubt, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind belongs in the absolute upper echelon of all that is romantic and unique. (***1/2 out of ****)

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About Brandon Valentine

  • http://www.dorksandlosers.com Tan The Man

    Great review.

  • http://www.temptationwaits.com visualsimplicity

    And great movie.

  • anonymous coward

    Great review. I was particularly touched by one moment, when Clementine was listening to Joel’s tapes and heard him say that the “hair thing” was fucking stupid. That’s something he never said to her in person and which he never would have…I wonder how many of our relationships have those “really, don’t go there” places.

    Me, I’m inclined to say those things in anger and wonder if I’ll ever be able to take them back…because even if they’re horrible things to say, sometimes they’re also true. I would never say it to her face, but my wife’s cooking is SHIT…and she LOVES to cook. How do people EVER manage to stay together?

  • Eric Olsen

    my wife’s a good cook – yeay for me!

    Very evocative and persuasive review Brandon, and I agree with your conclusions. thanks and welcome!

  • http://none.com Bob A. Booey

    I love this movie and Charlie Kaufman, even though Adaptation’s a deeply flawed film experiment.

    Dawn’s too hot for us and for Olsen :)

    That is all.

  • http://indemnification.blogspot.com -E

    Adaptation was good, till the ending. I find I have problems with the endings of most movies these days though.

    Eternal Sunshine, however, I loved and bought the moment it was available on DVD.

  • Biercoff

    It’s a really fasinating movie, how many times we have desired to erase someone from our minds but this movie in somehow demonstrates that we really can’t. It’s i “nice”, what am i saying, i fucking good story of how the mind can’t deal with our heart.

  • Max

    I put off waiting for this movie and am I glad I did – it was worth the anticipation. The only thing about this review is that didn’t Clementine and Joel meet the first time at a beach party and the next time they meet, for the first time after the erasure, is on the train?